The Vatican has a retired pope in residence

The Vatican has a retired pope in residence

   Pope Benedict emeritus returned by helicopter to the Vatican

When Pope Benedict announced that after retirement he planned to live in a monastic setting inside the Vatican, I was one of those who saw potential problems in the arrangement.

Too much contact and cooperation between the former pope and the current pope would give the impression of a “tag team” pontificate, I thought. On the other hand, with Benedict living practically next door, Pope Francis might feel compelled to ask his advice on important issues – and if so, would the new pope feel free to reject that advice and go his own way?

Today, as Pope Benedict moves into his Vatican rooms, I’m less inclined to worry about all that.

It seems clear that the two men will indeed be communicating. Just on a human level, it would be hard to imagine Pope Francis treating the retired pope as some sort of “untouchable.” Francis paid Benedict a warm visit in Castel Gandolfo in March and was there to welcome him today at the Vatican.

And it makes sense that the new pope would want to hear the opinions and advice of the former pope on a wide variety of questions – including, of course, that famous report on Vatileaks and power struggles in the Vatican, a report that Benedict commissioned late in his pontificate and then left for his successor.

None of this consultation should cause a crisis in the church. On the contrary, I think it will help the church better understand the papacy, more as an office and less as a sacred status. Benedict set that office aside and is no longer pope, and whatever advice or reflections he may offer today come from a “private citizen,” so to speak.

So why Pope Benedict’s insistence that he will be “hidden from the world”? Because I think he also understands that whatever his working relationship with Pope Francis, he’ll have to greatly limit his other encounters, his public statements and even, perhaps, his published writings.

Benedict is keenly aware of how information travels through back channels at the Vatican and through electronic media around the world. Even an offhand remark by the retired pope – say, to a group of German Catholics or to a cardinal over tea – could echo within the hierarchy or across the blogosphere, and possibly be construed as criticism or divergence from the current pope.

Allegiance to Benedict still runs strong in some church circles, and there are those who would not hesitate to invoke the retired pope’s supposed opinion to impede or slow the projects of Pope Francis. Precisely to cut off that possibility, I expect Benedict to be true to his word and maintain a prudent silence.

What’s intriguing is that there is still no attempt to codify any of this, and no official job description for a retired pope. Benedict is doing it his way, but the next time may be quite different.

8 comments (Add your own)

1. Kelly wrote:
If the next time ends up being Francis, nothing from his time in Argentina suggests that he'll be able to maintain a prudent silence or keep his opinions to himself.

Thu, May 2, 2013 @ 11:30 AM

2. John wrote:
I am glad we have Benedict in the Vatican. I know Francis is our Pope but one in reserve, and what a benchsitter, is always welcome.

Thu, May 2, 2013 @ 4:25 PM

3. Paulo Sgarbi wrote:
I am a bit surprised by this account. I have read "The Vatican Diaries", and by the end of it, it was somewhat clear that your demeanor towards of B16 was less than cheerie. However, you rightly pointed out that B16 was some sort of a recluse: "even in the seminary young Joseph had a tendency to seclude himself." (P 281). Wouldn't it be natural that B16 would be less than inclined to be perceived as a brown eminence behind Francis? Can't we take for granted that B16 wouldn't want nothing more to be left alone? And that Francis, who does not seem to be stupid, would pretty much do that? I do count myself as one of those who "pay allegiance" to Benedict, but B16 is not the pope: Francis is. And I have a feeling most of the 1.1 billion of us feel the same.

Thu, May 2, 2013 @ 8:51 PM

4. Yae wrote:
I still am of the opinion that having them both is a great blessing and one that only the Holy Spirit truly knows why. Papa Benedict and Papa Francis both look happy and I pray they may benefit from each other's company and we may too.

I doubt, if Papa Francis ever retired, he would seek to cast a shadow on his successor. He may seem uncouth to some but I am going to give him the benefit of doubt. I think he would instead seek to return to his beloved Argentina and seek out the old friends and his community. He would probably seek to be of service to them again and that's only if the populace allows it since they would seek him out. Anyway, they are both in God's hands and He alone knows what the future holds...gracias Diosito santo!

Fri, May 3, 2013 @ 1:17 AM

5. Deacon David Skillen wrote:
Why all the fuss and speculation, its a wonderful arrangement that is a matter for Benedict and Francis. What is shows mean, from both the great, albeit different, men of profound faith, is that in their minds there is only one person in charge - Jesus Christ - and that they are both His servants on earth. May God bless Benedict with a peaceful retirement, and Francis with a continuing prophetic ministry as Bishop of Rome and Pope.

Fri, May 3, 2013 @ 4:26 AM

6. Kelly wrote:
Oh... I don't think Francis would do anything to intentionally damage a potential successor. I just think that the personality traits that might end up making him a good pope might not be suited to retirement from the job. He is definitely blunt and gives his opinion. I could envision a scenario where a statement he makes is misinterpreted.

Fri, May 3, 2013 @ 10:00 AM

7. Florin wrote:
May 4th, Pope Emeritus Benedict will not be offering advice as a 'private citizen' - he is the former Pope, he is a Bishop, and just as those Bishops selected by Pope Francis are to council him as Bishops, so too can Pope Emeritus Benedict...if that is what Pope Francis calls for; and besides being a Bishop, Pope Emeritus Benedict is a profoundly holy man who remains at the foot of the Cross of Christ in intercessory prayer for the universal Church...and Pope Francis has great trust in him and a deep affection for him. Having two such holy men confer about the life of the Church is a great blessing.

Sat, May 4, 2013 @ 1:04 PM

8. frank vitus wrote:
Pope Benedict is a wise pastor. It's like any situation when a pastor leaves his parish and a new one comes. Any good pastor knows that there are certain realities in moving and changing leadership. The first reality is that there are some who are sad that you left and there are some who are happy that your gone. The second reality is that the pastor should be aware of is that your "fans" are going to feel obligated to thrash the new pastor in your presence. The final reality comes after time and eventually all of the parishioners at your last parish are going to ask, "What was the name of our last pastor?"

Sun, May 5, 2013 @ 5:43 AM

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